This week 93.9 FM WNYC, the New York affiliate of National Public Radio, is holding its thrice yearly pledge drive. Check out their pledge page here: http://bit.ly/9msbLd
Its pledge drive got me thinking about how similar it is to music - NPR relies overwhelmingly on voluntary donations from its listeners, many of whom listen without donating. Today, music can easily be downloaded for free as easily as turning the dial to 93.9 FM. What is NPR’s secret sauce? And, how can musicians use it to make money and gain supporters?
The answer is with what NPR rewards its supporters. Not only is its programming consistently of excellent quality, which makes selling easier, but it offers many different types of gifts/rewards in exchange for donations. The classic reward, perhaps its most popular, is the WNYC canvas tote bag. Walking around my neighborhood over the past few days I’ve noticed the great number of people walking around with these bags. They connote many things: an affiliation with an intelligent brand, willingness to donate money to a good cause, perhaps “hipness”. Would your fans be proud to display their affiliation with you? Do they already want to, but don’t have a way?
What is previously a private transaction - donating money - is now worn as a badge of pride. And because of the way that NPR frames its pledge drive, invoking how it relies on its listeners to keep running and how its listeners are integral to its success, donors get that warm & fuzzy feeling of participating in a social good. By focusing on people’s desire to feel like an important part of something great, musicians can bring their fans into the fold and offer them ways to meaningfully help through their money. The reward is not the music - that’s already coming for free, like NPR’s broadcast signal - but in the tangible items that can be worn as a badge of pride and belonging.
Lastly, NPR tailors the on-air promotion of gifts based on the program. Listening to Jonathan Schwartz’s music program, which focuses on standards/jazz, on Saturday, he was highlighting a collection of Frank Sinatra CDs offered by NPR as a gift. Earlier in the week during Leonard Lopate’s show he promoted a book about the markets of New York during an interview with a guest who writes about markets for The New Yorker. Similarly, musicians should tailor their rewards to their audience - tote bags may work for some, not others.
Matthew Wolsky is a recent Master of Arts - Music Business graduate from New York University. His thesis concerned the connections between artists and fans, and how to make these connections financially and creatively more rewarding. He recently launched his blog at http://matthewwolsky.com/